Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

The Night of the Hunter (1955)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

The Night of the Hunter (1955)

In actor/director Charles Laughton's only directed film - a remarkable debut film noir, a truly compelling, haunting, and frightening classic masterpiece thriller-fantasy:

  • the opening, voice-over delivered by plain, Bible-fearing farm woman Rachel Cooper (Lillian Gish), dressed in a plain dress with shoulder shawl, who magically materialized over the star-filled night background; she spoke to her five disembodied foster children around her and suspended in the heavens, and told them a Bible story about false prophets ("ravening wolves") in sheep's clothing, while a chorus sang behind her: "Dream, Little One, Dream": "Now, you remember children how I told you last Sunday about the good Lord going up into the mountain and talking to the people. And how he said, 'Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.' And how he said that King Solomon in all his glory was not as beautiful as the lilies of the field. And I know you won't forget, 'Judge not lest you be judged,' because I explained that to you. And then the good Lord went on to say, 'Beware of false prophets which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly, they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits.'...A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit. Neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Wherefore by their fruits, ye shall know them" - there was a brief view of children discovering the legs of the corpse of a murdered woman inside a basement entrance while they were playing hide-and-seek
The Preacher in Stolen Model T
  • the next image of a terrifying and deranged killer-evangelist Rev. Harry Powell (Robert Mitchum) with borderline sanity - a sinister, crazed, malevolent, black-cloaked, wide-brimmed and hatted 'Preacher' - a serial killer driving in a stolen Model T Essex, and his chilling, perversely evil and memorable monologue to the Lord as he glanced heavenward and delivered an insane prayer, asking permission to kill another rich widow: "Well now, what's it to be Lord? Another widow? How many has it been? Six? Twelve? I disremember. (He tipped his hat) You say the word, Lord, I'm on my way...You always send me money to go forth and preach your Word. The widow with a little wad of bills hid away in a sugar bowl. Lord, I am tired. Sometimes I wonder if you really understand. Not that You mind the killin's. Yore Book is full of killin's. But there are things you do hate Lord: perfume-smellin' things, lacy things, things with curly hair"
  • the first sight of his finger tattoos: LOVE and HATE emblazoned on the fingers of his right and left hands, seen as Rev. Powell attended a strip show - his left hand, tattooed with the letters "H-A-T-E" on his four fingers, clenched and then reached in his coat pocket to grab his concealed switchblade knife; as his libido was aroused, the flick-knife spontaneously opened - a sexual phallic symbol - violently and orgasmically ready to strike
  • the ominous scene, shot with a slanted camera angle, as a train approached the depressed rural town of Cresap's Landing - carrying Powell who had been released from prison and was in malevolent pursuit of a $10,000 cache of money, believed to be in the possession of the Harper family: widowed wife Willa Harper (Shelley Winters), and her two children: young 9 year-old John Harper (Billy Chapin), and young Pearl (Sally Jane Bruce)
  • the frightening moment of Powell's shadow filling the window of the children's bedroom - it was the preacher dressed all in black standing by the streetlight in front of their house; he strolled away, seductively singing a modified version of his signature tune (and the film's ironic refrain), the hymn - "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms": "Leaning, leaning..."
The Preacher's Shadow - Standing Under Streetlight
  • the sequence of Powell's favorite hand-wrestling sermon told to young John and other admirers in the town's store - a monologue that provided commentary on the eternal battle between the forces of good and evil that grappled together: "Ah, little lad, you're starin' at my fingers. Would you like me to tell you the little story of Right Hand-Left Hand - the story of good and evil? (He rose and flexed the fingers of his left hand) H-A-T-E! It was with this left hand that old brother Cain struck the blow that laid his brother low. (He raised his right hand) L-O-V-E. You see these fingers, dear hearts? These fingers has veins that run straight to the soul of man. The right hand, friends! The hand of love! Now watch and I'll show you the story of life"; he pretended that his hands were battling each other in a schizophrenic wrestling match - the struggle between good and evil, love and hate - his warring inner demons: "These fingers, dear hearts, is always a-warrin' and a-tuggin', one agin the other. Now, watch 'em. Ol' brother Left Hand. Left hand, he's a-fightin'. And it looks like LOVE's a goner. But wait a minute, wait a minute! Hot dog! LOVE's a winnin'? Yes, siree. It's LOVE that won, and ol' Left Hand HATE is down for the count!"
Love vs. Hate Monologue
  • the tortuous wedding night scene between the Preacher and Willa Harper, who was dressed in a nightgown as she stood barefoot in front of a bathroom mirror before joining her virile husband in bed - she was vulnerable and ready to consummate her love, but he lectured her about not having any more children: "Look at yourself! What do ya see, girl? You see the body of a woman, the temple of creation and motherhood. You see the flesh of Eve that man since Adam has profaned. That body was meant for begettin' children. It was not meant for the lust of men. Do you want more children, Willa?...It's the business of this marriage to mind those two you have now, not to beget more"
  • the off-screen scene of the preacher violently coaxing Pearl to disclose where her father hid the money: "Where's the money hid? You tell me, you little wretch, or I'll tear your arm off!"
  • Willa's frightening knifing murder scene in a A-frame bedroom - she was resigned to her death with her arms crossed over her chest; Powell delivered a benediction, and then raised his switchblade knife high above her (in his right hand - the one marked with LOVE) to carry out the ritualistic murder - on the altar-bed
  • the creepy, nightmarish, hypnotically-eerie discovery of Willa's corpse sitting underwater in a Model T with her long blonde hair tangling, swaying, and mingling diaphanously in the current with the river's underwater reeds
  • the pursuit sequence in the basement fruit cellar as the homicidal Powell (Frankenstein-like), who had just learned that the money was hidden in Pearl's doll, chased the two children up the stairs with arms outstretched
  • the children's escape and flight to their father's skiff, where Powell waded out and lunged toward them with a knife, but slipped waist-deep in the mudhole as the skiff slid into the current just out of his reach - and the lyrical, fairy-tale-like nighttime sequence of their floating down the river amidst God's benevolent creatures on the shoreline (a croaking frog, rabbits, an owl, tortoise, sheep, and a spider's web)
  • the distant silhouette of the preacher on horseback (a stolen horse) against the night-time sky as the children slept in a barn's hayloft
  • the preacher's first acquaintance with his strong-willed opponent - a kindly, warm-hearted, benevolent savior Mrs. Rachel Cooper, an elderly matriarchal widow who protectively rescued children: ("I'm a strong tree with branches for many birds. I'm good for somethin' in this old world, and I know it, too"), and brought Pearl and John to her farmhouse, and defended against the Preacher's intrusion with a shotgun
  • the image of Rachel sitting on the porch in a rocking chair on a screened-in porch (looking like Whistler's Mother) with the shotgun across her lap to battle against him with her own vigil; as he stood outside and sang his rendition of the hymn with the words: "Leaning, leaning..., she countered by defiantly and harmoniously singing the authentic version of the Protestant religious hymn with a spiritual reference to Jesus: "Lean on Jesus, lean on Jesus"
Dueling Hymns
Rachel Prepared to Save Children - With a Shotgun
Powell's Arrest
Final Words: "They Abide and They Endure"
  • in the conclusion, the arrest of Powell, the reveal of the money, and Rachel's triumphant, reassuring final words at Christmas-time as she marveled about the orphaned, brutalized children who had reclaimed their innocence, after many nights of being hunted by a demon; she delivered a prayer: "Lord, save little children. The wind blows and the rain's a-cold. Yet they abide...They abide and they endure"

Rachel: "Beware of false prophets"

Discovery of Corpse of Murdered Woman

Powell's Left Hand Tattoo

The Ominous Train Bringing Powell to Cresap's Landing

Willa's Torturous Wedding Night with The Preacher

Willa's Murder

Pursuit of the Children Up From the Basement Cellar

Pursuit of Children Escaping in Skiff

Shoreline Creatures - A Frog

The Children's Flight From the Preacher - Seen on Horseback

Rachel Cooper
(Lillian Gish)

Protecting the Children From the Preacher


Greatest Scenes: Intro | What Makes a Great Scene? | Scenes: Quiz
Scenes: Film Titles A - H | Scenes: Film Titles I - R | Scenes: Film Titles S - Z